Lorne Balfe is back at it with His Dark Materials series two, delivering another jaw-dropping collection of spellbinding new themes as well as an updated, rather exquisite new rendition of the main title piece.
With the first season of the BBC’s His Dark Materials, composer Lorne Balfe released two albums; the first was a showcase of various themes from across the show (ranging from the epic main title cue to the grim, moody theme for the evil Magisterium), and the second was a full score album showcasing the utilisation of said themes at various intervals across the episodes. Happily, series two appears to be taking much the same release road with the thematic album having released today along with the first episode of the new series, and it’s that album that we’re tackling here.
Overall it’s a shorter collection that the first series’ coming in at only nine tracks long, the first of which is titled The Subtle Knife. The track opens quietly, almost pensively with slow, gentle strings and some rather ethereal vocals. Percussion then begins to build in the background, with the strings becoming louder and the vocals harsher until the music suddenly quietens almost completely. Ominous woodwinds then begin playing the rather mysterious motif for (presumably) the Subtle Knife, with the percussion starting to build up once again in the background alongside dramatic brass. Unlike last time however the music doesn’t suddenly end, but instead builds and builds until reaching a loud, epic and rather otherworldly-sounding crescendo, one complete with wistful electronics that complement the orchestra rather well. As opening cues go, I’d say The Subtle Knife really nails it.
The score then lightens up a tad at the start of Play The Serpent, with quietly upbeat strings opening the piece which then build up into a louder, much more dramatic strings performance that (rather curiously) kind of sounds like a sort of warped, eerie rendition of the Alethiometer theme from the first series – the structure’s similar though the notes sound like they’ve been turned inside out. Give it a listen and see what you think. The quiet lightheartedness from earlier then returns for a few seconds before the strings build back up into dramatic form to then end the cue. The composer has a treat in store for us next in Dark Materials: Between The Worlds – an updated, refined rendition of the main titles piece from the first series. The primary theme is of course the same, though this playthrough sounds a little darker and a little smoother compared to the first one, and there are also subtle hints toward dark electronics dotted throughout the orchestra to reflect the change of series and tone. The main theme always has been a great piece (not to mention the star of the first album), and so naturally a welcome addition to this thematic collection.
A Spectre’s Playground dives deep into dark, ominous territory, opening with moody strings and low-pitched piano notes that then build up into louder, more foreboding score as the cue continues. The instruments then fade quietly away towards the end, leaving only the piano to play a couple more moody notes which then softly close out the track. Ethereal, almost operatic-sounding vocals then take the forefront in A New Cardinal Rises, harkening back to the vocal style of The Magisterium from series one while also embiggening and raising the vocals to prominence alongside dramatic strings and crashing percussion until the oppressive, rather malevolent score becomes almost deafening – at which point it then quickly fades out. The Witch Queen Of Lake Lubana opens at a brisk pace, with strings, vocals and woodwinds then breathing the first proper hints of musical hope so far into the score. Some rather medieval-sounding instrumentation then joins the fray after about a minute, adding to the building majesty of the cue which then practically explodes with a grandiose rendition of the cue’s melody, one complete with loud strings and some particularly emphatic brass.
Lighter, rather playful-sounding percussion opens Children Of The Prophecy, with strings hinting gently towards the Scholastic Sanctuary theme (from the first series) before the orchestra then bursts in with crashing percussion and epic brass playing a particularly heroic-sounding new motif. Here the score basically goes all out for a thoroughly enjoyable minute before settling back down again, with strings once again hinting at Scholastic Sanctuary before the cue draws to a close. A loud burst of horn-like electronics then introduces us to The City In The Sky, with some particularly foreboding brass then playing a new motif that frankly couldn’t sound more evil if it tried. Hats off also to the orchestration here; it demands your attention and simply won’t let go of it, in a similar sort of grandiose, in-your-face manner to that of Tom Holkenborg’s brilliant theme for London from Mortal Engines. To close out the sadly short album we get one more theme in The Shaman, which opens quietly with pensive strings and solemn brass before then slowly rising into hope and heroism with the instrumentation getting increasingly louder and bolder until the music then settles back down again in the final minute, hinting back towards solemnity before then coming to a close.
Overall, Lorne Balfe’s second entry into The Musical Anthology Of His Dark Materials is, much like the first one, absolutely spellbinding. The orchestration is fantastic, and each and every one of the assortment of new themes are excellently crafted and highly enjoyable pieces of music. The only criticism I have, if any, is that I just wanted more; at only nine tracks long the album ends almost as quickly as it starts, and it certainly leaves you wanting (in a good way). Hopefully though that’s a musical hole that the second series’ score album will fill in a few weeks time. Nonetheless, what we do get here is genuinely spectacular, and I look forward to hearing each of this exquisite new themes in the show itself.
Standout Cue: 3. Dark Materials: Between The Worlds